Thursday, August 31, 2017

State of things

My husband is in the hospital. Tests and more tests. I can't really talk about it except to say we are finally getting some answers, and they are not easy ones, and we are picking our way through the medical maze.

My daughter was supposed to fly to LA tonight to see friends and on hearing the latest news, at the gate, decided not to go. The airline gave her a full refund, bless them.

My son is in Mexico for a wedding, left early this morning. He was with us last night when his dad was admitted, so was our girl, and it seemed that we finally knew why he wasn't getting better, the MRI had showed the problem, and all that was left was treat it. Except as the doctors investigated further they turned up another underlying problem, possibly the source, which had been asymptomatic while doing its damage, and now surgery is being talked about, really serious chest cracking surgery, and the alternative is pretty scary, too.

My son knew none of this before he left, or he wouldn't have left, and now he's trying to get a flight home, except hurricane bands are now pummeling Cabo and the airports are closing down. He's so upset to be far away. He and his dad were talking on the phone, both of them crying.

That big strong man, making jokes from his hospital bed. And then getting news this afternoon and becoming quiet. Life twists on a dime, and then twists again. We're running to keep up, believing in grace.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


It's been great having my niece and nephew here from Jamaica this week. Their big sis, who now lives in New York City, has been taking them around, showing them the sights. They're easy to have; they don't emerge from their rooms till noon, and rather appreciate that I don't have an issue with that. If I don't happen to be in the kitchen when they're ready for breakfast, they get out the frozen waffles and the fresh strawberries themselves, the maple syrup and the whipped cream, and they build their preferred concoctions using said ingredients.

I suspect their breakfast at home is rather healthier fare that store-bought frozen waffles, but hey, I'm the aunt, this what they said they wanted. One week won't hurt them. They spend inordinate amounts of time staring at their phone screens, and I don't complain about that either. They look up enough to engage in conversation about all manner of subjects. They're both brilliant students, aces in school, and opinionated, like the rest of the family. Being bright, opinionated and analytical are fine foundations for scintillating exchanges of the mind. I love getting their take on the world.

My daughter is taking them to Smorgasbord in Brooklyn today. That's an outdoor food festival with vendors selling all manner of exotic fare. My nephew in particular is a budding foodie, and will enjoy himself tremendously. His sister will go along.

I haven't written about my husband's progress. Yesterday everything seemed to be going backwards. He is not better. He has grown quiet. We will see what the new week brings.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"I will not die in front of you"

Aunt Beulah slept off peacefully at 10:51 PM last night as her three daughters stood around her bed. For most of the day, they had monitored the almost imperceptible rise and fall of her breath. And then, the last soft gurgle. The nurse came in a moment later to check her vitals. Aunt Beulah's daughters said, "We think she's gone." Every death brings back all the others. This one was expected, so why does it hit so hard? Uncle Quintin had gone home to get some sleep and wasn't there when Aunt Beulah died. I think she chose that. The hospice nurses say it is hard to die in front of those who love us hardest. It's been a difficult August. But now Aunt Beulah is beyond all that earthly suffering. I hope she hugs my mom for me, as surely Gloria was among those who came to meet her. (I saw the title of this post on Rebecca's blog. I don't quite recall the context, but that phrase has been echoing in my head all morning.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Between worlds

My cousin told me this morning that their father told Aunt Beulah last night that he released her, and that it was okay for her to go. She said a Jamaican nurse at the hospice told him he needed to do that, or she would keep hanging on.

Aunt Beulah, my mom's second youngest sister, has been unresponsive for weeks now, and everyone expected when they took her off the ventilator on Monday she would not last much longer. Instead she made it to the hospice, where she has been resting all week in an airy room large enough for her husband and three daughters to stay over every night if they choose to. She has opened her eyes occasionally, but mostly she sleeps, traveling, as we say, between the worlds. She seems peaceful, and it has also been healing for her daughters to be able to spend this week at her bedside, watching her rest without the tangle of tubes and IVs and wires and beeps, all the intrusive machinery of dying.

My cousin believes her mother heard what their father said. She said her mother's breath is slower and shallower this morning. I think it must be a blessed thing at the end of life to let go with all the people you love best around you, loving you back.

That's Aunt Beulah, back row center, loving on one of her babies. Her other two daughters are the uber cool one in the red dress, and the tiny one front row left. They are outside their home in the Bahamas, where my cousins grew up, before they all moved stateside. The eldest now lives in New York City, the middle one in Boston, and the youngest in San Francisco, but they are all in Ft. Pierce, Florida with their parents these last weeks, keeping the final vigil.

We were talking about Aunt Beulah when we gathered for our anniversary a couple nights ago, all of us aware that she is close to the end. She and Uncle Quin were with us for Thanksgiving last year, along with their three daughters and two grandchildren. I'm so grateful for that now. Aunt Beulah was in good spirits, telling us all again and again that she and Uncle Quin had been married 60 years. It was for her the salient fact of her life on a night when everyone was giving thanks. 

She didn't always recognize us, as she has suffered from Alzheimer's for the past few years. But, as we were saying two nights ago, even when she didn't remember your name, or who you were connected to, she knew she loved you. The love just beamed out of her, so that the vivid transparent green of her eyes lit up with it. I am remembering the remarkable color and warmth of Aunt Beulah's eyes as I sit here, waiting for news.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


We had such a lovely time last night with the crew, my kids and their partners, my niece and her partner, and my brother, niece, and nephew visiting from Jamaica—eleven souls in all. Since my husband is still navigating a lot of back pain, even as he moves around more, we opted to celebrate at home, in very low key style, ordering in Peruvian braised chicken, broccoli with garlic, black beans, and sweet plantains. The women folk sipped red wine at the kitchen counter while chatting and laughing with my daughter who was making her famous blueberry peach pie. The men sprawled in the living room watching pre season football, and that's just the way the gender roles fell out although there was liberal mixing back and forth among everyone.

Later in the evening, we all raised a glass to our 31 years of marriage while belting out a rousing rendition of the Nat King Cole's anthem "Love."

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore

I don't know why, but every single one of us knew all the words of all the verses. My older niece, the de facto master of ceremonies, started it, my daughter and my younger niece picked it up, and pretty soon we all joined in at the top of our lungs, joyously and riotously performing that thing. We sounded like a drunken saloon. Even my husband who looked on dubiously at the spectacle of us at first, was singing along by the end. It was the highlight of the festivities, which wound down around midnight. Most of us have to be at work this morning, though my older niece took the day off and will be back here shortly to squire her younger brother and sister all around the city, shopping for back-to-school supplies and taking in the sights.

My son's girlfriend wrote us the most beautiful sentiment in her card: "I feel so lucky that I get to witness your love for each other; it is so special and true. I love how you share it with your family. It's like a big hug you never want to let go of." I want to remember her words, especially on an evening made somewhat more poignant by my big strong husband's sudden frailty. It brought home our vows made three decades and a year ago, in sickness and in health, come what may. We were both wiped out as we fell into bed at the end of the evening, but our hearts were brimming. My husband said, "Everything was perfect." And it was.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

31 Years

When we met


When we married

Today marks 31 years of marriage for the man and me. I would do it again in a heartbeat, knowing what I know now. Faster than a heartbeat. Happy anniversary, my love. I am grateful for every moment of this journey with you, then, now, always.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Love engine

My heart is in Ft. Pierce today, where my three cousins, my loves, will undertake a heartbreaking and courageous act of daughterly love. Aunt Beulah, your brothers and sisters in the forever are standing by, joyfully awaiting your return, but hopefully not today. Uncle Quinn, our arms and our love are holding you now. Allyson, Cathy, Carla, you have given and are giving from a fountain of magnificent love, abiding faith. Our entire family is with you in spirit today and always. Please kiss Aunt Beulah's forehead for us. Tell her she's been a shining example of love and devotion and laughter her whole life long. Tell her I feel Gloria close by. Tell her, please, how very much she is loved, how eternally blessed we all have been, to be hers.

I wrote that on Facebook this morning, because in Fort Pierce, Florida, at 1 this afternoon, my three cousins and their dad will be taking my Aunt Beulah off the ventilator that has been breathing for her for the past week. They had planned to do it on Friday, but my uncle said, no, he wasn't ready, give him till Monday. He's a doctor and knows that even though the plan is to transfer my aunt to a lovely, light-filled hospice, she may not make it there. Since her stroke two weeks ago, she has weakened progressively and for the past week has been entirely unresponsive. I imagine her spirit has already flown, greeting her brothers and sisters who have gone before.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to make the decision to take your beloved of more than sixty years off life support; to wake up and know that today is the day your mother, who has loved you superbly all your life, might die. As her youngest expressed it to me late last night, "Mommy is a love engine." On waking this morning, my throat was full of tears, and I knew the rest of the family, scattered as we are geographically, were all gathering in spirit around Aunt Beulah's bed. On my phone, I wrote how I was feeling and posted it. I wondered if it would be painful to my cousins that I had acknowledged before the fact what we all know is possible, that Aunt Beulah might leave us today. I don't know, but the rest of the family welcomed the post, so I am putting it here too. To mark this day.

That photo was taken on Uncle Quinn's 90th birthday earlier this year. Aunt Beulah is 88, the fifth of the six Stiebel sisters. A love engine, indeed.

Update at 6 PM : Aunt Beulah is at the hospice and is resting comfortably, surrounded by her family in a spacious room with a sunny private terrace. A moment of peace, a respite for them all, thank you God.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


My brother and his two younger kids, ages 16 and 13, arrived this morning and will be with us for the week. Their older sister is my niece, the dentist with the edgy new asymmetrical haircut. She and her boyfriend went to a wedding in Baltimore this weekend, and posted this picture. They sure do clean up nice.

My daughter is thrilled her Jamaican cousins are here. She worried that after their grandma died, they wouldn't see each other as much, and she's happy to know she was wrong. She, however, is in St. Lucia with her boyfriend. My son and his girlfriend are also there. It's all sun and sea and night life, and I believe they're having a good time. My daughter posted this picture of herself on the beach they grew up on, across the street from their grandma's house. They all return tomorrow.

As long as I'm posting photos of beautiful young women in my family, here's one of my niece taken earlier this summer, on the night of her high school prom. When on earth did she get this grown? Her brother, too, now a teenager, is taller than I am. He used to be so uninterested in the rest of us, and now he's fully and delightfully engaged, to very comical effect.

Back in New York, my husband is on the mend, sitting up most of the day, and moving around the house with his cane. You can tell he's been sick. He's unshaven, which he usually isn't, but he did manage to shave his head a couple of nights ago, so he looks more like himself. He's quieter than usual amid the hubbub. I realize how much I miss his voice telling stories. Our living room was full all day. Along with our houseguests, my niece and her boyfriend came over, and we all just hung out, chatting, intermittently watching TV, catching up. There's not much else report, except that day by day, my husband is getting better, and that's everything. Thank you for all your comments and concern. I'm so grateful to have this community of souls. I felt your prayers and wishes for healing. I think they're working.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Freedom is an act

"During the Civil Rights Movement, our struggle was not about politics. It was about seeing a philosophy made manifest in our society that recognized the inextricable connection we have to each other. Those ideals represent what is eternally real and they are still true today, though they have receded from the forefront of American imagination. Yes, the election of Obama represented a significant step, but as the following election and all the days beyond that high point in American history have proved, it was not an ending. It was not even a beginning; it was one important step on a continuum of change. It was a major downpayment on the fulfillment of a dream. It was another milestone on our nation's road to freedom. But we must accept one central truth as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. The work of love, peace, and justice will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred and revenge, and fills up our existence with their power."

Rep. John Lewis in Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

A handful of students stood at the center of the white supremacists' torchlit rally in Charlottesville last weekend, decrying the hate. The hostile crowd pressed in on them, shouting epithets, but the students did not flinch. They held their "Act Against White Supremacy" banner high. I was afraid for them, and I loved them, too. This is courage. This is freedom, caught in the act. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I heart this

On Facebook, my husband's younger brother posted these words: "I pray for the restoration of his health and the continuation of the joy and happiness we see here in his face."

Thank you, Bruce, both for the prayers and for that wonderful childhood picture of two brothers who love each other very much. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Pooled light

12.59 a.m.

I can't write all my fears here. I feel as if I must be brave, wear a brave face. So what's the use of writing anything then? It doesn't feel true. I listen to him breathing in the dark. It sounds labored. I'm scared.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Morning in the city

I went out early this morning to get the man a neck brace. His back is improving slowly, but now his neck is giving him hell, as he's been using it to stabilize his spine for the last two weeks and some. The heating pad has migrated from under his back to under his neck, so a neck brace seemed to be in order. He is now dozing with his neck immobilized. Before that, he walked to the bathroom and back without bracing against the walls much. He said he felt as if he was a misshapen C, but in fact his posture was straight and tall. It meant his back was holding him up without unbearable pain. I took it as a promise.

It felt peaceful strolling the city in the early morning. It's a beautiful day, not too warm, not in the least bit humid, the light falling at an angle just so. The man at the medical supply store was a bodhisattva, showing me the pros and cons of different braces, letting me know that if I needed it, they could deliver whatever else I might require. I don't know what it was about him. He just seemed so calm, so grounded and kind. It was impossible to think in a catastrophic way in his presence. I left feeling as if everything will be okay, I just have to give it time.

1. Barnard College, my alma mater. Those are the windows of the English department on the fourth floor. I knew it well. I was an English/Writing and Geography/Cartography double major. Such a long time ago, now. And yet, a blink.
2. Pomander Walk is a hidden Tudor-style village right on 94th Street on the Upper West Side. I lived in this city for decades before I even knew it was there.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


My husband seems to be turning a corner. If he's not yet fully around it, at least he's able to see around the bend to what lies ahead. Please hold a good thought.

Meanwhile, Trump is tweeting about poll numbers and fake news while North Korea tests nuclear missile warheads that could conceivably reach Chicago and even Washington D.C. He has made no comment whatsoever on the bombing of the Minneapolis mosque over the weekend. His lack of comment speaks loudly to his base.

Everywhere, people are struggling it seems, with physical challenges, emotional upsets, and one devastating tragedy in the life of someone we love. I'm trying to be present for people without allowing my perspective to turn gloomy. I'm trying to live in the light, which commonsense tells us exists in equal measure to the shadow.

It's later now. Maybe I lied about turning the corner. Tonight it looks more like we're still on approach. The muscle spasms are back. The slightest uncalculated movement brings them on, even running and jumping in his dreams. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Happy 91st birthday Aunt Grace!

My mom's third youngest sister is 91 years old today, and she wears it as gracefully as her name. There she is with two of her nine great grandchildren. The photo below is of two of her eight granddaughters, with another one of her greats. She also has one grandson among those eight granddaughter girls.

I've probably lost you in all the numbers, but here's another cherished one: Aunt Grace is one of the six girls in my mom's family, and they stayed extraordinarily close their entire lives. Three of the six, including my mom, are gone now, and the youngest two are not doing well. One had a stroke last week and is in the hospital as I write this. She also suffers from Alzheimers. The other is in and out of hospital with respiratory issues, and is too weak to travel anywhere else. Aunt Grace is the only one left who is up and about, jet setting between her children in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Vancouver.

Those are the Vancouver granddaughters. There are four of them. The one that's missing now lives in Alberta with her husband and five kids. As you can see, our birthday girl has spawned some good looking offspring. In case you think that's an accident, here's a photo of Grace when she was in her early twenties. She was a beauty then, and she's a beauty now, inside and out, but even more than that, Aunt Grace has a delightful wit, and it doesn't quit. Her laugh rings out like bells.

Aunt Grace lives in Toronto, and loves having her own apartment, even though her two daughters both live in very elegant houses with suites set aside for her. Aunt Grace has many friends in Toronto, people she calls her "angels." Her daughters flew to be with her for her big day. She is the sister whose voice is so like my mother's even their own children couldn't tell them apart. That she is 91 today, and doing well, fills my heart to bursting.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lifers at the farm

A group of them went to the farm this weekend, a mini reunion. I swiped this pic from Snapchat. These two were schoolbus buddies at four years old. They're all grown up now, and living on different coasts, but they still get together with the gang at the farm come summer, their soul cluster, all of them still close. I wanted a happy picture at the top of my blog because I don't want to dwell on the fact that my husband's painful spasms have not let go. Still, the X-ray showed no fracture of the spine, and no disc herniation or other misalignment, so the trend is positive.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 10

Found on tinybuddha: "We can't control everything. Sometimes we just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and let life happen." I am trying to remember this in the moments, and to be grateful for the rather expert help offered by our children. We have no answers, despite yesterday's blood work and X-rays, and the fierce inquiry of my husband's doctor, a tiny, brilliant woman who is anything but laissez faire. With her on the case, I trust answers are on the way.